Making the choice to study abroad is a huge decision and an investment that you’ll benefit from in many aspects of your life for years to come. Once you’ve made that decision, you then have to decide how long you’ll go abroad, whether you choose a summer, semester, or academic year. There are many things to consider such as cost and courses available through your program. If you are financially and academically able to go on a year long program, you should definitely consider it.
Even if you are able to go abroad for a year, you may have reservations. Maybe you’ve never been abroad before or you are worried you’ll become too homesick. Personally, I had never left the country before, but I knew it was something I was capable of. Despite your uncertainties, making that leap of faith will enable you to reap so many benefits that you never thought possible. First of all, choosing to do a program that lasts an academic year will help you to gain a lot of independence. Not only are you living far away from home, but you are adjusting to a new city and a different way of life in which you have to learn to adapt and do new things on your own. This may seem daunting at first, but if you keep an open mind, you will get used to things smoothly and possibly faster than you thought you would. Homesickness will probably come, but once you move past that, everything becomes easier. Living in a new country, especially for a longer period of time, you gain an unimaginable amount of confidence in your abilities and you will feel like you can conquer anything on your own.
Additionally, getting comfortable in a new place takes time. I had always heard that it takes about three or four months to feel fully acclimated in a different country and I definitely agreed with this once I was abroad. For the first few months, everything is new and takes a lot of getting used to. I felt more like a visitor to my host country rather than a resident which is not what I wanted. What I found though was towards the end of my first semester abroad, I felt like I truly belonged. In my head, this was my home, my college, and my city. I was familiar with the city and how things worked everywhere I went, so I was able to be fully immersed in the culture and to live like a local.
Not only did I live like a local, but I was able to form close relationships with people from all over the country. I met countless people and formed strong bonds with friends that I would not have been able to grow as close to if I had only been abroad for one semester. I even spent Christmas break with one of my friends and her family so I was able to get to know her, her family, and how they lived much more deeply. I made lifelong friends that I still talk to every day and I feel like I have a second family outside of the US. Having that second semester to spend time and make more memories with them made a world of a difference.
Finally, I feel like being abroad for a year opens up many opportunities to experience and see more in your host country. For example, I was able to celebrate different holidays during each season, from Christmas and St. Stephen’s Day in the winter to St. Patrick’s Day in the spring. It was very interesting to see how differently people celebrated holidays like these compared to how we do in the United States. I was even able to share American traditions, such as when I prepared a full Thanksgiving dinner for my new friends. Also with much more time abroad, you are able to explore more of the country than if you were staying for a shorter time period. I was able to go on more excursions through my program and to see more places than if I had not been there for a year. It enabled me to learn how the beautiful landscapes and cities are connected to the culture and history that I learned about in my classes.
Those are just several of the reasons that studying abroad for a year can be a wonderful experience. While there is a lot to consider when thinking about a program this lengthy, the benefits are innumerable and unimaginable. Do your research and consider an academic year program so you can see for yourself!
Photo courtesy of Danielle Beam.
Danielle Beam is a junior at the University of Kentucky studying Psychology. Danielle participated in the Celtic Blue program at Arcadia University and National University of Ireland Galway during the 2014-2015 academic year.